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2016-17 Player Review: Sami Vatanen

by AJ Manderichio @AJManderichio / AnaheimDucks.com

Another summer is upon us, which means another round of player reviews. AnaheimDucks.com is featuring a different Ducks player throughout the summer (in numerical order), highlighting key stats while also keeping an eye on next season. We continue with Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen.

When the puck dropped on the 2016-17 season, expectations were high for Vatanen.

The skilled offensive rearguard entered the season riding the high of a solid summer. After recording career-highs in points and assists during the 2015-16 season, Vatanen earned a four-year extension during the summer. Announced during the annual Select-A-Seat event at Honda Center, the team and its fans were ready to see Vatanen take the next step and cement himself as the team's go-to offensive defenseman and power-play quarterback.

Vatanen's start to the season followed the script. He totaled six points (1g/5a) in the first nine games of the season, with four of those coming on the power play.

Video: ANA@NJD: Vatanen buries a wrist shot for a 1-0 lead

However, as John Steinbeck once famously wrote, the best laid of plans of mice and men go quickly awry.

Vatanen would post just 12 points - and one goal - in his next 45 games. He missed 10 games with an illness, an upper-body injury and a lower-body injury, halting any momentum from his early season success.

Video: OTT@ANA: Vatanen buries rebound for PPG to pad lead

He finished the season with just three goals and 24 points, his lowest point total since the 2013-14 season. He still ranked second among team defenseman in scoring, assists, power-play goals and power-play points. Vatanen also passed Lubomir Visnovsky (108) for sole possession of seventh on the club's all-time scoring list for defensemen and seventh on the team's all-time power-play points list for defensemen.

His start to the Stanley Cup Playoffs added another layer to a frustrating regular season. A big hit along the boards in Game 1 of the First Round against the Calgary Flames took Vatanen out of action, sidelining him for the remainder of that series and the first two games of the Second Round series against the Edmonton Oilers. He would record just one point in the next five games - an assist - while playing through a major shoulder injury.

The Western Conference Final closed Vatanen's season on a high note. He added five points (1g/4a), including a patented slapper to key the comeback win in Game 2.

Video: NSH@ANA, Gm2: Vatanen blisters a slapper for PPG

He would close the playoffs with six points in 12 games, leading team defenseman in power-play goals and co-leading defenseman in power-play assists.

A 14-point drop off - and just one goal at even strength - are always a concern. Vatanen also saw his Corsi For% drop to a career-low 48% despite skating in a career-high tying 71 games. However, the underlying stats may explain Vatanen's subpar season. Despite firing 117 shots on net, his shooting percentage sat as just 2.6% - far below career norms. At even strength, the number is even lower - just 1.59%. It's likely those shooting percentages will correct themselves in future seasons.

Vatanen also took on a more defensive role with new head coach Randy Carlyle. He saw his offensive zone starts drop to a career-low 45%, almost six percentage points lower than his previous two seasons. He remained a fixture on the team's penalty kill, averaging just over two minutes per game shorthanded.

He also remains one of the team's best options in transition, quickly moving the puck from his end into the neutral and offensive zones.

Vatanen saw his name bandied about in multiple trade rumors, especially around the Expansion and NHL Drafts. Despite those, he remained with the team, and continues to rehab from offseason shoulder surgery. If all goes well, Vatanen should return to his role as a weapon on the blue line, delivering offensive production from the back end.

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